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Fulldome Digital Media: Loch Ness “State of the Dome” Report Shows that Small is Big

carolyn collins petersen fulldome producer for planetariumsby Carolyn Collins Petersen (10th November 09)

Fulldome digital theaters continue to pop up around the world like digital mushrooms, in planetariums, educational institutions and other venues. Questions about the market keep cropping up among producers, equipment manufacturers and operators. Some of us are tracking this growth, as a service to the community and the fulldome trade group IMERSA. To that end my company, Loch Ness Productions, publishes an online Fulldome Compendium, and as part of our assessments, Loch Ness president Mark C. Petersen, produces an annual "State of the Dome" report.

Mark uses our in-house database of fulldome and planetarium listings and takes a census of theaters. These data are updatedfulldome image planetarium every time we get a report of a new theater installation or projection system purchase. He also investigates those theaters to determine what they’re showing. It’s a pretty labor-intensive undertaking, but it’s worth it if we can learn a thing or two.

Fulldome facility numbers have rapidly doubled

Probably the most startling fact to flow from Mark’s work is that the number of fulldome facilities has more than doubled in the past two years. As of this writing (October 2009), that number is 579 facilities. Two years ago, it was less than half that number. This dramatic growth rate is something to celebrate, and I think most of us who have been working steadily in fulldome could pretty much see it coming. What we might not have predicted was the growth of the small-theater sector of this market. More on this below.

The market favors space and astronomy topics

If you’re a producer or searching for fulldome material to present in your theater, one of your frequently asked questions is, "What are all those fulldome theaters showing?" Mark’s research has produced a comprehensive list of fulldome shows around, now online at www.lochnessproductions.com. Peruse this list and you’ll notice that the content is dominated by space and astronomy topics. Some programs focus on molecules, dinosaurs, human fossils, music entertainment and others – but they’re few and far between when compared to the astronomy and space science topics.

Does this mean that fulldome content must be limited to those two main topics? Theoretically no, but realistically, for the time being it probably is – although the ability to teach any science topic or entertain people with music and light shows is certainly a large part of fulldome’s promise. Mark points out in his report that the overwhelming majority of theaters are associated with some form of educational or cultural institution. This is significant if you are a show producer evaluating fulldome as a market.

fulldome image planetarium
Small domes – big market for producers?

Two-thirds of the listings in Mark’s database are single-projector systems. These are systems that display movies at around 1k resolution, and they’re being installed in the smaller domes (40 ft diameter or smaller), including a growing number of inflatables. They’re affordable and right now they dominate the numbers of systems being sold.

These "little guy" systems are going mainly into schools and other facilities whose primary aim is education. This has clear implications for show producers, at least in the short term. People who buy the systems for their schools are almost certainly getting them primarily to teach astronomy and space science, with other sciences coming along for the ride.

It can be very costly to create animated programs in fulldome. You might find that fewer than 100 of the smaller theaters have the resources to buy a show with anything like relative ease. It’s an assessment all producers must make if they’re going to make shows for fulldome. But the presenters in those theaters are looking for affordable content to go along with the live presentations they give. 

The market may look daunting, and it is. But, for those of us who love the domed theater and know what it can do for audiences, the challenge is to find a way to supply it.

To see the State of the Dome report, go to lochnessproductions.com/pltref/2009state/2009stateofthedome.html

See also:
Fulldome: Marketing & Branding, Part II
Special Venue Media: Immersive Film Festival Names Fulldome Winners
"A Breakthrough Medium" for Visitor Attractions. Fulldome: Marketing and Branding part 1
Trends in Fulldome Production and Distribution: The Paper

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